Economists and businesses are increasingly confident that the economic recovery is gaining momentum. A survey of CEOs showed that for the first time in two years more chief executives expect to be adding jobs rather than cutting them. A recent U.S. Department of Labor report stated that the nation added a net total of 162,000 jobs in March, the most in three years.

While this is good news, it doesn't make it any easier for cleaning contractors struggling with cuts to their contracts. This includes reduced budgets in schools, universities and government buildings at a time when enrollments and government services are at an all-time high. And the private sector facilities have their share of problems as budgets are reduced at the same time activities are increasing.

With customers still cutting budgets, it may be easy to forget the real reason we clean: to create healthier, more productive buildings for the occupants to work, live, study, heal, relax, enjoy, worship, etc., while at the same time protecting the building and materials itself.

There is no question that using green products can help reduce potentially harmful exposures to cleaning personnel, occupants and the environment. And reducing consumption of chemicals, paper and other disposables is good for the environment, as is using more durable and repairable equipment, tools, carts and containers. Even moving cleaning activities from night to the daytime can reduce the amount of energy used to ventilate, heat, cool and light an otherwise empty building. But we must be careful that switching to green cleaning doesn't become just another strategy to make occupants feel good about cleaning reductions.

Our challenge is to implement green cleaning practices and products while meeting performance and quality requirements, without sacrificing our ability to protect people's health. This concern is based on the fact that cleaning effectiveness is tightly linked to both the use of appropriate cleaning products and processes, as well as cleaning at the appropriate frequencies based on soil levels, types of soils and occupant vulnerabilities.

The green-cleaning movement has made it easy to adopt greener products, and in these economic times, a great deal of attention has been paid to training and other efforts to ensure that appropriate and efficient processes and standard operating procedures are used. But often lost in the discussion is the need for appropriate cleaning frequencies.

When we clean less often, bacteria multiply, organic soils attract harmful pests and moisture causes mold to grow. We need to still clean at frequencies necessary to keep our buildings healthy and safe regardless of building owners' concerns for appearance levels or desires to cut cleaning budgets.

Additionally, those who are often responsible for cutting budgets sometimes forget that the frequency of cleaning must not only take into consideration the level and type of soils, but also the sensitivities of the occupants. For example, buildings with vulnerable occupants such as those in a hospital, schools and day care centers require more cleaning than those buildings with healthy and less sensitive occupants. And this is true even in commercial buildings or manufacturing plants if some of the occupants include women who are pregnant or nursing infants, occupants with compromised immune systems such as those undergoing chemotherapy, and those with chemical sensitivities or who suffer from seasonal allergies.

In the end, it is important that we use the appropriate green products and processes. But it is essential for us as cleaning professionals to help customers understand the full implications of their budget cuts and how this affects frequencies, which in turn may be placing their occupants at risk. We must be willing to defend our work and even fight against the implied threat that a cheaper contractor can be found who would be happy to have the work regardless of the cleaning frequencies. Because in the end, bacteria will multiply, pests will find food and water to reproduce and mold will grow.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. He can be reached at